A more interesting program than usual got me out to hear Antii Siirala, another of the up-and-coming pianists on their President’s Piano series: Beethoven’s Op. 90 Sonata; a few shorter pieces by Sibelius; a compelling Ballade by Kaija Saariaho, which made elemental washes of sound out of virtuoso runs; and after intermission, Chopin’s op. 28 Preludes.
His programming was intriguing, his technique sound, and his approach to these pieces a bit prosaic. Siirala’s way with an unadorned melody seems a little labored, as if he weren’t quite sure what to do with it, lying all naked there under his right hand. This robbed Chopin’s A minor prelude--the one that sounds like it was written a hundred years later than it was--of its otherworldliness, the E minor prelude of its pathos, and the first variation in Beethoven’s finale, the slow-waltz episode, of its transcendence. What he could do, beautifully and eloquently, was to lift a melodic line out of complex figuration; the evening’s two most elegantly lyrical moments were the scampering E-flat major prelude and the rippling F major. He seems to realize this is a strength of his, because he chose for his only encore a piece, Liszt’s transcription of Schumann’s song “Widmung,” which is only playable with any chance of success by a pianist who can do just that.